How can we prepare children to succeed? In an increasingly competitive world, many parents worry that their children will be left behind if they don’t grow up to have high IQs and test scores. Because this is what leads people to success, right? Not quite. New research has shown that the qualities that matter more than test scores and talent, have to do with character. One specific trait that psychologists and educators are now focusing on as a key ingredient in happiness and success is grit.
The idea of ‘grit’ was popularized by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth. According to Duckworth, “Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Teaching grit promotes resilience and perseverance. In her research, Duckworth argues that more than anything, grit is what predicts who gets to the finish line of hard goals in life, because, despite failures, adversity, and slow progress, these people maintain interest and effort.
Interestingly, research shows grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to talent; and, unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is something everyone can develop! So if you fear your children are not gritty enough, don’t worry, grit can be taught!
Sure, some kids are naturally “grittier” than others, but there’s plenty you can do to help your little one develop this trait, which will help him succeed in whatever he wants to accomplish.
So, how can parents encourage grit? As it turns out, the learning environment can be designed to promote grit –check out the following tips:
- Welcome challenges
A real feeling of accomplishment happens when you pursue a difficult thing –especially one that requires discipline, practice, and effort. If your little one never has a chance to achieve something difficult, he may never develop confidence in his ability to confront a challenge. Remember that taking risks is an important way kids learn!
- Promote perseverance
Many people wrongly believe in the idea that a skill comes naturally; that if you are good or not good at something it’s because you were born that way. This belief is what leads many children to give up on things because they find it difficult. Everyone has to work and practice to improve their abilities, even naturally gifted children.
- Create tolerance for frustration
If your child is struggling with an obstacle, resist the urge to jump in right away with a solution. First, let your child come up with a way around it. You should always be available, but encourage him to figure out a solution on his own first. Success is a road usually filled with bumps; let him navigate along the way.
- Model resilience through failures
Being able to pick yourself up from failure is one of the most important skills a child can learn. Although it’s hard to let your child experience failure and disappointment, in the long run it will be one of the most valuable skills you could teach him! Resilience is a key ingredient in building grit –if you fall down, you just have to get back up. You can share your own struggles, or, when faced with one, just handle it with calm and determination. Most importantly, remind your children that failure is not something to be afraid of -it’s one of the best ways to learn about something new.
- Develop a “growth mindset” –focus on effort rather than innate skills
We’ve talked about “growth mindset” and its importance in learning on previous posts. One of the easiest things parents can do to promote this is to be very careful about the way they praise their children. In short, parents should praise effort over an outcome, in order to encourage children to push through pain and failure.
Grit is also contagious, so you can model this trait to your kids!
If you want to learn more, check out Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on the key to success: